Ramesh Vangal, the 'serial entrepreneur', whose deals barely skirt controversy, is on the defensive again. The man who helped bring Pepsi to India is making news over whether or not he has sold his holding in Tamilnad Mercantile Bank (TMB). Mr Vangal was on television claiming emphatically that he had not sold his shares to Standard Chartered Bank.
In May 2007, Mr Vangal led a group of six powerful investors who acquired a 25% stake in TMB from C Sivasankaran's Sterling group. (Mr Sivasankaran, in turn, had bought the shares from several Essar group entities after it failed to obtain RBI permission to acquire the Bank.) The Economic Times says that Mr Vangal's 3.6% of this shareholding (held by the Katra group) has been transferred to an entity called Subcontinent Equity, with Stanchart as the beneficial owner. It reports that a couple of other investors have also transferred their holdings similarly. Mr Vangal, of course, denies it.
Interestingly, this is not very different from how Mr Vangal acquired the most lucrative contracts and properties of DSQ Software from Dinesh Dalmia. The contracts were first transferred to several separate entities; their names were changed; then mirror companies created in multiple tax havens like Mauritius and British Virgin Islands to obfuscate the trail. In that case, assets were transferred through a company called Globetech Worldwide Ltd (PO Box 146, Wickhams Cay).
Dinesh Dalmia, who has spent the last four years in jail, turned DSQ Software into a shell company and vanished to the US as Nick Mittal. He fled back to India after creating another fraud of over $150 million in US and Europe. Mr Vangal along with Satyen Patel acquired DSQ's assets and set up Scandent Solutions, which got listed through a reverse merger with SSI, rather than a public offering that requires detailed disclosures. It is now Cambridge Solutions. Meanwhile, Mr Vangal moved on from Scandent and set up the Katra group.
Mr Vangal's key strength is his ability to network and partner with a rich, powerful and influential group of global Indians in his investments. He did that again in TMB. Given his past record, Mr Vangal's claim that he has not sold his TMB holding is viewed with scepticism. Quietly transferring a chunk of equity in a bank to a potential acquirer who requires RBI approval is a lot different from buying out Dalmia's assets. So it will be interesting to watch his next move. Meanwhile, shouldn't RBI be investigating the dubious goings-on at TMB that Mr Vangal claimed so openly on television? — Sucheta Dalal